A lot was said about luck and lack of thereof, technical issues and how they affected the fight for the the 2016 Formula 1 World Championship, it even came to a point of a lot of people saying Nico Rosberg won the WDC only because he was lucky and would, otherwise, be far behind Lewis Hamilton, the “real” champion of 2016.
So, how much did luck and technical issues actually influence the fight for WDC?
Here’s my analysis of potential points lost by each Mercedes driver, who got lucky, who got unlucky. Let’s start, race by race.
Legend: HT = Hamilton technical issues points lost, RT = Rosberg technical issues points lost. HL+ = Hamilton points gained through luck (HL-, lost trough bad luck), RL+ = Rosberg points gained through luck (RL-, lost through bad luck)
The analysis is about potential or theoretical points based on the pace shown by both drivers throughout FPs, Q and race (whenever possible), obviously, the real life results themselves could differ.
Australia: No technical problems for either driver in race or qualifying. Bad start by Hamilton. Raikkonen’s PU blows up while he’s in front of Hamilton. Ferrari mess up with putting Vettel on an aggressive strategy, as a result, he finished behind Hamilton. Rosberg first, Hamilton second. Due to Ferrari messing up (I believe he’d have finished in front of Kimi, but behind Vettel if Vettel had been put on the same strategy as Hamilton, Vettel had an extra stop and was right on Hamilton’s tail), I’d say HL+ = 3 points.
Bahrain: No technical problems in qualifying and race for either driver. Rosberg had a better start than Hamilton, who also was involved in a race incident with Bottas at Turn 1, fell down to P7 and damaged his bodywork. Vettel’s PU blew on the way to the grid so Hamilton had one less car to overtake. Hamilton finished third behind Rosberg and Kimi. HL+ (Vettel not being in the race, would be hard or impossible to overtake, considering the final gap to Kimi, Hamilton wouldn’t get by Vettel): three points. HL- (incident with Bottas): three points, without the incident. I do believe Hamilton would have finished second as Rosberg overtook him at the start and usually, their lap one positions are their finishing positions. Through good luck, he didn’t lose three more points. Through bad luck though, he lost three points. All in all, I’d say, points-wise, HL+/- = 0 points. He did have a hand in the Bottas incident (although I’d say Bottas is more to blame), while it was pure luck that Vettel didn’t start the race.
China: Technical problem for Hamilton in Q (MGU-H failure), started last. Finished seventh. Without the technical problem, it’s likely he would’ve finished second (we can’t draw any conclusions from qualifying but in FP sessions, Rosberg was quicker by around two tenths. We also can’t draw much conclusion from the race pace as Hamilton’s car was damaged while Nico’s was not and we don’t know how much the damage from first lap incident cost him). HT = 12
Russia: ERS failure for Hamilton in Q3, started tenth. Based on FPs, they were very close (Nico toppingFP1 by a huge margin of around 8 tenths, Hamilton vica versa in FP2, FP3 Hamilton is narrowly quicker by half a tenth). They both had technical issues during the race that needed nursing. I do believe Rosberg’s pace, in general, was better throughout the race as he finished 25 seconds ahead, while Hamilton only needed to actually overtake four rivals, most of them a lot slower, cars to get to P2 as Vettel and Kvyat took each other out, Ricciardo was also affected by the incident and lost a position while Perez, also as a result of the incident, suffered a flat tire, and while both Hamilton and Rosberg nursed their cars). Nico also managed to get the pole, fastest lap, led every lap and won. So I do not believe the ERS failure in Q3 had any effect on the end result of the race (see similar in Austria for Nico).
Spain: Obviously, we know what happened here with the lap one incident. Nico got the jump on Hamilton at the start and, without the incident, I’d say Nico would have won the race (he was in prime form and, again, the position they are in after the first lap is usually the position they finish in) with Hamilton coming in second. Hamilton crashed first so he was awfully lucky (points-wise) he took Nico with him. The different scenarios available: ROS finishes first, HAM second (-7 points delta for HAM), HAM 1st, ROS 2nd (+7 points delta for HAM), HAM doesn’t finish, ROS wins (-25 points delta for HAM, remember, HAM’s car wasn’t under control when it hit ROS who was completely in control of his car at the point of impact), both don’t finish (actual outcome). Based on what happened, it was actually the second best outcome for HAM. Without it, as I said before, I’d say ROS would have won with HAM second. RL- = 25, HL- = 18
Monaco: Hamilton’s qualifying issue only limited him to a single run in Q3, considering he was three tenths off Ricciardo’s pole time, I don’t think it mattered much. He did get to record one quick lap, if he could have been that much faster, he would have been. He started third behind Ricciardo and Rosberg. Rosberg also had the same technical issue before going out in Q3 (both drivers suffered fuel pressure issues). In the race we were robbed of a normal start (SC start). Rosberg had glazed brakes and let Hamilton by. Hamilton then got lucky with RB not having the tires ready for Ricciardo. I would say that without Rosberg letting Hamilton by, Hamilton would have gotten by him during the first round of pit stops. Based on the gap to Vettel in fourth place (16 seconds), I’d say it’s more than probable Hamilton would finish behind him if he were stuck behind Rosberg for another 15 laps until his first pit stop considering the pace of other cars and he would definitely have finished behind Ricciardo. HL+ = 13 points.
Canada: No technical issues for either driver in qualifying or in the race. They touched in first corner when Hamilton defended after a poor start and Rosberg lost a lot of places while Hamilton didn’t lose anything. Ferrari messed up with the strategy, otherwise it’s possible the win would go to them, however, Vettel made too many mistakes for that to happen. Without the unlucky incident, Rosberg would, in my opinion, finish a distant third. RL- = 5 points.
Baku: both had the same technical issue with the engine mode. I don’t think it mattered much in the end result as Hamilton had an overall bad weekend and as Rosberg was quicker with a similar issue as Hamilton. Rosberg did also have another technical issue in FP2 (a problem with his car’s drive), not that it mattered for the race. Rosberg’s second Grand Slam (the first one being in Russia earlier in the year).
Austria: Rosberg is handed a five place grid penalty for gearbox change which got damaged in FP when his suspension broke and he crashed out. Still, Rosberg was in the lead of the race and (surprisingly), Mercedes offered Hamilton an undercut. Now, it’s true that they pitted Rosberg first during the previous pit stops, however, he wasn’t undercutting Hamilton at the time, but rival drivers. Hamilton’s slow pit stop contributed to Rosberg getting the lead. On the last lap, they crashed when Hamilton tried to overtake him and Rosberg’s brake-by-wire went into a passive mode (something that shouldn’t have happened), with Hamilton being the lucky one who could continue without any issue and Rosberg dropping to fourth as he had a lot of damage on his car. For the record, I do not think Rosberg is to blame and do think he’s unlucky with being the only one whose car was damaged, however, the stewards gave him a time penalty due to the collision so I won’t give any points delta to Rosberg here, even though he easily could have scored 13 or 6 points more than he did. Had he finished second, I would give seven points on account of his brake-by-wire going into a passive mode while being in the lead (a technical glitch), but in that case, he should have given the place to Hamilton, not fight to try and stay in front of Hamilton.
Great Britain: Rosberg has technical issues in FP2 which prevent him going out and then while running in second during the race, he encounters a gearbox issue, the team tell him not to use seventh gear and as a result, Rosberg receives ten seconds penalty which relegated him to third. We were robbed of a normal start (SC start). RT = 3 points.
Hungary: No issues for any of the the contenders nor in qualifying or in the race.
Germany: Rosberg tops in all FPs and gets the pole. An electrical issue during his first Q3 run meant he only had one run to snatch top spot on the grid. In the race Rosberg made a bad start, then receives a seconds penalty for his overtake on Verstappen (in my opinion, it wasn’t deserved as we’ve had similar overtakes with no penalties, butwe won’t question the stewards).
Belgium: Hamilton starts second to last as a result of a myriad of grid penalties for stockpiling PU parts. Note: Alonso received fewer grid penalties, but started behind Hamilton. Hamilton finishes third, Rosberg wins. In the race itself, Hamilton was very lucky as he overtook only a couple of cars on track, the rest were mainly due to the race being stopped and/or incidents, which also rendered three of his main competitors (Vettel, Raikkonen, Verstappen) out of contention. By the time Hamilton was third, on lap 18, he had only overtaken half a dozen or so drivers on track, the rest dropped behind him either through collisions, tires blowing up, or when they pitted. Nonetheless, he finished 27 seconds behind Rosberg, suggesting Rosberg had a superior pace on the day. He was also 13 seconds behind Ricciardo. Ferrari were looking mighty quick, as were Red Bull (as proven by Ricciardo), so in a normal race, I don’t think Hamilton would have scored P3 in the end. I also doubt he’d have won it (Rosberg’s pace was superior). So, without penalties, I’d say he’d have finished second, while without enjoying some luck (namely VES-VET-RAI incident), he may well have finished P5 or P6. So, HT = 3, HL+ = 7.
Italy: No issues for the two drivers in qualu=ifying or race. Hamilton makes a bad start but is lucky that Ferrari messed up the strategy by pitting both drivers twice, although I don’t think they would’ve finished in front of him in either case.
Singapore: FP2, a technical issue for Hamilton. No issues for either driver in qualifying or in the race.
Malaysia: Hamilton on pole, Rosberg second. Rosberg gets T-boned by Vettel, fights to come home third. He got lucky in the incident with Vettel as he was not forced to retgire (or the incident with Raikkonen, for which Rosberg was to blame, without getting T-boned by Vettel, though, it wouldn’t have happened. Same as with Hamilton getting tangled up in race incidents from which he escaped relatively unscathed, I don’t count that as a *L+). Hamilton retires from lead with a PU failure. In a ‘normal’ race, I’d say Hamilton had the pace over Rosberg and would have won the race with Rosberg (who also proved he had a strong pace) finishing second. HT = 25 points, RL- = 3 points.
Japan: Rosberg fastest in all FPs, qualifies on pole and wins the race. Hamilton started second, made another bad start and then recovered to finish third. No issues for either driver.
USA: Hamilton wins from pole, Rosberg second. No issues for either driver. Rosberg got helped by the VSC to jump Ricciardo at the pit stop, although I do believe he’d have finished in front of him regardless because he had better pace. He was 15 seconds ahead at the end of the race even though he emerged only about three seconds in front after the VSC pit stop.
Mexico: Hamilton had a glazed brake, overshot the chicane at the start which helped him to stay in front, otherwise no issues for either driver.
Brazil: No issues for either driver. Rosberg got a lucky with Red Bull risking with a different strategy to try and go for the win, otherwise he’d have finished third, behind Verstappen. We were robbed of a normal start again. RL+ = 3 points.
Abu Dhabi: no issues for either driver.
Tally-up – technical issues:
Hamilton lost 40 points directly through technical issues (China, Spa, Malaysia)
Rosberg lost three points directly through technical issues (Great Britain)
Points gained through sheer luck:
Hamilton gained 23 points through good luck (Monaco, Spa incidents)
Rosberg gained three points through good luck (Brazil)
Points lost through sheer bad luck:
Hamilton: 18 (Spain)
Rosberg: 33 (Spain, Canada, Malaysia)
All tallied up: Hamilton would have gained 58 points without technical issues and bad luck and lost 23 without good luck, so all in all, he’d have 35 points more.
Rosberg would have gained 36 points without technical issues and bad luck and lost 3 points without good luck. 33 points more.
If you don’t count Spain (as both scored no points), Hamilton would have gained 40 points and lost 23, so all in all, he’d have gained 17. Rosberg would have gained eight points.
So while Hamilton has suffered more as far as technical issues go, he lost fewer points through bad luck and gained more through good luck than Rosberg.
In my opinion, with luck and technical issues out of the equation, it would come down to who would’ve won the Spanish Grand Prix. For reasons written above, I do think Rosberg would have won that day in Barcelona. If Hamilton had won it, he’d have been theWorld Champion this year.
So in the end we should accept that Rosberg deserves the title as a champion season is always characterised by great driving, being fast consistently, winning regularly and of course a good helping of luck.
If I missed something in my analysis – please, do say. I spent three hours now going through past race highlights, reports, FPs, Qs, etc., to write this down, so it’s entirely possible I missed something, although I hope I haven’t.